Rescue video: Sandy sinks tall ship HMS Bounty replica off NC; 14 saved, 2 missing (updated)

3:30pm ET: A 180-foot, 3-mast replica of the 18th century tall ship HMS Bounty sank on Monday, Oct. 29 during the epic surf and winds from Hurricane Sandy, 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, North Carolina. Sixteen people were aboard when the ship went down midway through its journey from Connecticut to Florida.

Fourteen people on the ship made it to life rafts and on to safety, thanks to a dramatic rescue by the US Coast Guard documented in the video above. "On scene weather was reported to be 40 mph winds and 18-foot seas," according to the USCG statement. "The vessel is reportedly sunk, but the mast is still visible."

Two crew members remain missing: Captain Robin Walbridge, and Claudene Christian (Twitter, web). According to various reports, Christian is a distant relative of original HMS Bounty crew member Fletcher Christian, the original Master’s Mate who seized command of the ship during the historic mutiny.

Update, 715pm ET: Christian is now confirmed dead. Her body has been recovered. The Coast Guard has an ongoing aerial search under way for the two missing crew members.

This was the same HMS Bounty replica that was featured in the 1962 Marlon Brando film Mutiny on the Bounty, as well as various Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

From WITN's coverage:

We're told the crew had only handheld radios once they abandoned ship, so there was not contact until the aircraft got near the scene.

The Bounty was built for a 1962 film and has been featured in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The Bounty has been to Carteret County a couple times, back in the 2000s. According to its website, the Bounty "sails the country offering dockside tours in which one can learn about the history and details of sailing vessels from a lost and romanticized time in maritime history."

It's not clear why the ship set sail in the Atlantic Ocean with Hurricane Sandy churning up the East Coast.

Andrew Thaler of Southern Fried Science has been tweeting about the incident. From the updates posted on the ship's Facebook page, it looks like they were trying to ride out the storm when the generators failed.

I am no maritime expert, but I do know that sometimes the safest place for a ship to be during a storm is out on the water—particularly if heading in to shore poses new hazards. I'd want to know more about the options they had, before second-guessing the captain and crew.

And as Andrew notes, when the HMS Bounty left port on Thursday, no one had any idea this storm would be so massive. More at the Washington Post, and CBS News, CBC News.

A 2010 photo from the Bounty, weathering a previous storm.

Below, the last few images uploaded to the HMS Bounty's Facebook account. First, Captain Robin Walbridge, who remains missing after the ship sank.

photo: L. Jaye Bell and Jerry Parisi.

Good evening Miss Tracie. I think we are going to be into this for several days, the weater looks like even after the eye goes by it will linger for a couple of days. We are just going to keep trying to go fast and squeese by the storm and land as fast as we can. I am thinking that we will pass each other sometime Sunday night or Monday morning All else is well.—Robin

By "Miss Tracie," it appears Captain Walbridge referred to Tracie Simonin, the director of the HMS Bounty Organization.


    1. More big government.

      The individual states can manage air and sea rescue off their coasts much more efficiently.

      1. I’m going to assume that’s sarcasm, because if it isn’t, you have a staggering lack of knowledge about what it takes to coordinate and manage air-sea rescue.

      2. You know, sometimes it’s okay to keep the irrelevant sarcasm to yourself.
        We get it.  Everything and anything can be turned into a political joke.  Har Har.

        Sometimes, making a joke can come off as insensitive and attention-seeking, rather than clever.  This is one of those times.

        1.  Says you. It helps to point out what may be obvious to you, but to others, they forget how things work and why some things are important (like the Coast Guard) and just how idiotic some ideas are (eliminating FEMA).

    2. This.  I kept thinking I’d just watch a minute or two of the video but couldn’t look away. Those guys are amazing.

  1. I say they pay the mythbusters to show up after the storm has passed and raise the ship with ping pong balls.

    Assuming the cost of all those balls is less than the worth of the ship, anyways. Which I would assume to be the case for a ship of that type, even if it is a replica.

  2.  I sailed on the Bounty for most of 1999; she was the first square rigger I worked on. She’ll be missed. I do have to wonder why they were out in Sandy, though, as do others in the sailing community:

    It sounds like the two missing crew are Robin Wallbridge, the captain, and a woman named Claudene Christian, who is apparently a descendent of Fletcher Christian, the mutinous first mate from the original Bounty.

    1. Tom – I did a double-take when I saw your name. I remember sailing with you in years past; I hope all is well.

      It was a questionable decision for Captain Wallbridge to set sail. However as he was a consummate sailor, I’m going to reserve judgment until there has been a chance to interview the crew…and the owners. Regardless, it is a sad loss for the tallship community. Bounty was a great ambassador for those who choose to make their home on the sea and for traditional sailing vessels. I hope that the captain and Ms. Christian are found safe; I understand they at least had their Gumby suits on.

      1. Heh–small world, eh? Nice to run into an old shipmate!

        Definitely no point in making any snap judgements about whether or not it was a good idea to be out there; there’s certain to be a lot of information that we don’t have. And yeah, the gumby suits should up the chances of their being found pretty substantially. Here’s hoping!

        1. Uhh yeah, why snap to judgement when Captain Wallbridge took seven days, from launching her on 22 October 2012 from the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard drydock in Maine, to put her on top of the edge of the continental shelve, out between Cape Lookout, North Carolina, and what had been announced to be the biggest storm ever to hit the U.S., and deliberate if that was a good idea. 
          It had to have been obvious to anyone on board that then and there was going to be an exiting place and time for at least last week. 
          I’m all for taking risks, would even have sailed along. 
          Whoever was in charge of the Bounty’s course was not playing safe by crossing Sandy’s T to inshore.   The crew knew this was going to be extreme sport. 
          Sad that it went bad. 

          There is no point in reserving judgement when the facts are on the table.

  3. In all seriousness, it’s confusing how power failure led to the sinking of the Bounty. It’s a sailing vessel, after all. Was a lot of the rigging motorized to replace the need for a large crew, or was power needed for something else? Anyone have any explanation?

    1.  With no power, there’s no way to run the pumps to get the water out of the ship. She was apparently taking about 2 feet of water an hour, which is a good bit, but with a good pump or two, no problem.

      1. I was going to guess it had something to do with the nav systems or a motor. (I was once in a nasty squall on Lake Superior during which we just turned the motor on and boated around in circles with me yelling up from below deck to tell my husband any time we got too close to water that was too shallow.) But that was near-shore.

    2. Likely the rigging was motorized as well.  Square-rigged ships needed a lot of manpower working in dangerous conditions (i.e., standing on a rope sixty feet above deck) to adjust their sails.  The pumps were run by gangs of sailors, especially the lesser-skilled. 
      ( gives a good description, but I’ve been unable to find the picture I was looking for. will have to do.)  

      1.  Bounty’s rigging was not motorized. Square riggers certainly take a lot of work–much more than a fore-and-aft rigged vessel–but if you’re not going for peak efficiency, you can run on a bare-bones crew of maybe 30 under sail pretty handily.

        The incredibly large crew complements from the old Navy ships was primarily so that you’d have enough people to work the guns. A standard gun crew would be 7 people or so, and if you’re on a 24 gun ship, there’s almost 170 people right there.

        1. The original HMS Bounty was equipped with four 4-pounders and ten swivel guns, had 46 officers and men. 

        2. Thanks for the correction.  I’d forgotten that one wouldn’t necessarily need peak efficiency in all cases.

          The crew complements on age-of-sail ships were highly variable; not every ship could get enough men to fight both sides of the ship at once.  

  4. This replica had an auxiliary diesel for propulsion. I’ve had the opportunity to have visited this vessel many times, and watched as it motored into port. A crew of 16 – 17 is not sufficient to handle a vessel of this size under sail alone in these conditions; while she had plenty of labor reducing gear on board, it is not enough. Remember, this vessel was built for the 1962 “Mutiny on the Bounty”, and as such had to comply with maritime safety rules of the day. She could be sailed, purely, but did quite a bit of motoring.
    Have confirmed, though, that they had lost the pumps fairly early this morning. Look at those pictures up there, and you’ll see that the ship only has solid gunwales (railing) from about amidships aft. Forward of that, the deck is fairly open. This is just like the original Bounty, a vessel that was built as a cargo vessel, and sadly this may have been a major factor (vessel had 12 feet of freeboard, and these were 18 foot seas). Incidentally, this replica was 150% larger than the original, as well as the other Bounty replica used in the 1980’s “Bounty”.
    Nonetheless, it saddens me to have lost the ship, but sadder still is the loss of life. 

    1. For a full-rigged ship sailing on a long trip, you’d probably want a crew of 30 or so if you were planning for going purely (or even mostly) under sail; you could do it with fewer, but it would be tough.

      I can’t really agree that the lack of gunwales would be a major factor; when you’re in 18 foot seas, you’re running up and down the waves, not having them break over the ship. I’ve been in 20 foot seas on ships very similar to Bounty, and never had a huge wave crash entirely across the deck. The water almost certainly was coming through the seams between the planks; with winds and waves like that, the hull takes a real pounding, and that can flex stuff enough to work the putty and oakum that caulks the seams out, letting water in.

      1. Very good point, Tom; at over 50 years of age, she’d have more flex than newer wooden vessels, and in conditions like these they’d take a pounding to begin with.

    2. She would have had to comply with current USCG regs in order to have passengers aboard – or to have been chartered for the movies. This would include scantlings and systems like auxiliary propulsion, fire control, and safety-at-sea stuff.  So, I’d argue that that none of the systems were out of date.  If you look closely at the pic of the deck looking forward from the helm, you can clearly see the stanchions and lines necessary for certification – no one would have been swept off the deck, and the crew would almost certainly be clipped in on tethers at all times when offshore…  The size of the crew: she would have been bare-poling it and hove to by this point, so yeah, not a lot of folks necessary on deck (or aloft) for sail handling… I’d be surprised if her standard crew complement was much bigger.  

      Stunning work from the Coasties.

      Best hopes for the missing.  They do have survival suits, so Neptune may yet prove kind… So long, yellow-striped girl…

  5. I have been reading marine accident reports for school (a state maritime academy) and was surprised at how many distressed vessels lost their engines because of the rough weather itself. It makes sense though: when ships start rolling severely, either because of the free surface effect of water taken aboard or because of converging currents, their engine coolant water intake may be interrupted, causing the engines to shut off.  Perhaps it is because of my morbid school reading list, but I wasn’t quite as astonished as Thayer that the Bounty could lose her engines so soon after a maintenance overhaul. 
    Of course, we won’t know what happened until the NTSB report comes out.  Great work by the USCG air crew! I can’t imagine trying to keep a helicopter on station in high winds at such a low altitude or swimming in hurricane-tossed seas as the rescue swimmer did.

    1. Part of why they use helicopters is because of the old adage – they’re so ugly the ground repels them. Seems the ocean has similar aesthetic tastes much of the time.

      In all seriousness, though, rescue helicopters are brutes. They could almost be said to stay in the air through sheer stubbornness, but it’d probably be more accurate to say they stay in the air through the sheer stubbornness of the engineers that design them. The crew are likewise stubborn, training over and over again to handle every contingency that can be predicted, and probably even some that can’t. It’s a shame they are needed, but since they do exist, one can’t help but be slightly awed by their capabilities and prowess.

  6. My understanding from the radio report was that there was some complication – they needed to get away from land and had to make some quick decisions.

    I rode through a couple hurricanes in fish boats (trawlers) and wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  Minor breakages and mistakes that are cause for nothing more than a bit of swearing in light seas can become utterly catastrophic in a major storm.

    I imagine the cause of the sinking is going to be a combination of factors.  Usually one thing can go wrong and be handled, but if 2 or 3 things happen at once things can get ugly very quickly – even if they are minor problems on their own.

    Mental note – must give my little 28 footer a going over before next summer’s sailing trip.

  7. Now that Christian is dead, is the search for “two” crew members continuing…or just the captain? (see update text)

    1. The summary is incorrect.  I can’t find any confirmation of her death. [Edit: Nevermind,] The ‘confirmed dead’ link above only describes her as “unresponsive.”  Reuters currently says she’s “in critical condition.”  According to the coast guard’s website, there were 14 crew members rescued, one unresponsive person recovered, and one person remains missing — the captain.

  8. I know it was a beautiful ship.

    I would rather hear it was smashed into kindling than hear a single human life was lost trying to save it.

  9. I toured the ship in the 80’s while it was docked in St. Pete Florida. Even as a kid, I thought it was just a beautiful ship. Sad to see her go.

  10. Starting an article like this by delineating this ship merely as a “replica” is demeaning and misrepresentative. Along with the loss of crew and the great distress of their ordeal, the ship itself is no minor loss. I walked on its deck, as did many of the readers who are commenting and I assure you, she was a great sailing vessel and a tremendous loss to all who manned her and those who were privileged to visit.

    1. Like Xeni, I’m going to trust the captain’s judgement on this until I hear more. I think you might be overestimating how fast a sailboat (even a tall ship like this) can move. At a certain point, if you were already out at sea, trying to get over and skirt the edge of the storm as much as possible might have been your only option. 

    1. I was thinking of the same thing.  I used to surf there many years ago and it very nearly took my life off that turbulent coast one dark and stormy day when I was swept out into seas the size of large hillsides.  I was convinced I was going to die in the ocean that day and I wouldn’t wish that dark feeling on anyone.  I heard on the radio another surfer died in those seas earlier but I went out there anyway. That place is most certainly a graveyard and I have lots of respect for it.  Even knowing the risks I went out there and it’s probably too difficult to explain to a land-lubber why.

      I’ve never shared these photos online before, but feel compelled to do so now. I took them with a little yellow waterproof camera a very long time ago very near the time I was almost buried there myself weeks later.  Hatteras Island is one of the loves of my life, but I’ve known for a long time that she’s as dangerous as she is beautiful.

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